Nice when late work is a bogey of the past; when bananas are displayed boldly in all the shop windows, and you can raise you voice above a whisper when asking the shopkeeper for your 2oz of butter! - Dora Barlass
Two days after the announcement of Victory in Europe, on 10 May 1945, the General Accident general manager, Stanley Norie-Miller, addressed his staff as follows:
My message is one of unbounded pride in the share which our staffs have taken in bearing the burdens and the trials of the struggle which has now culminated in the utter defeat of Hitler and his Nazi gang. We are indeed grateful to all our staffs everywhere, you have carried on the business of the corporation in these difficult wartime years whilst our colleagues have been fighting battles for us. Carried on under difficulties which at times seemed insurmountable and yet have always been overcome by unexampled devotion to duty.
Carried on under the stress of domestic worries and at times under the heartrending anxiety as to the fate of loved ones. Carried on by many in constant peril of ruthless bombing by the enemy and with undaunted courage when home or office have been damaged or destroyed. Carried on with no respite at all and, in addition, the sterner duties of home guard, civil defence, police and all the other activities which total war has imposed upon the civilian.
At this moment our thoughts must go particularly to those of our colleagues who have carried on under all the privations and indignities of occupation of their countries by the hated enemy and who have never failed in their belief in final victory and have struggled against every difficulty to preserve the business of the corporation for the final day of liberation.
Much has been done, too, by you and other members of our staff, not only at head office but throughout the world - in remembering our boys on active service by providing comfort and entertainment for the troops, cigarettes and friendly letters giving them news of our doings.
All of which means so much to those who have been separated from their homes and their friends, and, in particular, in providing the wherewithal for the sending of Red Cross parcels to those who were captive in enemy hands and who without them might not have survived to come back to us. These are but a few brief details of what you have done to bear your share of the common burden. You may well be proud of it.
From the chairman and directors, I convey to you a message of our deepest thanks for all you have done, and I am very happy now to tell you that the directors have decided, as a mark of their appreciation, of your service since during the war years, to grant a bonus, details of which will be made known as soon as possible.
What of the others? What of those 2,000 or more of our colleagues who joined the Forces and the majority of whom have been actively engaged in the face of the enemy? We are proud of them beyond all words. We are eagerly awaiting their return, when Japan has been crushed and peace has been restored to all the world.
A place will be found everyone of them who wishes to come back to the 'General Accident' organisation. The warmest possible welcome awaits them. Some of them alas, will not come back. Over 120 of our own staff in the United Kingdom have given all, even life itself, in the cause of freedom, and in this day of rejoicing let us pause for one moment and thank God for every remembrance of them.
It is possible that he could not speak to the staff any earlier because they had been given a holiday to celebrate the announcement, certainly this was true for staff at South British Insurance Company in the UK where a, somewhat confusing, memo written on 3 May 1945 read:
VE Day Holiday Ceasefire - on the announcement of the European cease fire the office will be closed. If announcement made during official business hours ie 10-4 on Monday to Friday and 10-1 on Saturday for the remainder of the day and the whole of the next working day. If announced after office hours Monday to Friday for the next two working days. If announced before office hours Monday to Saturday for that day and the next working day.
At Northern Assurance, Vivienne Hall had also been given two days holiday and ended her war time diary as follows:
8-11 May 1945: This memorable date or rather week must be in red – Victory red – for this is what has happened this week. After, it seemed, interminable rumours and false statements it has happened unconditional surrender by Germany to the allies – something we have longed for six long years – and once or twice we thought would never happen. Goodness, diary, I've written it at last!!!!
Two days holiday with roaring, happy crowds marked the end of this ghastly war – all countries acclaiming us and our allies for liberating them from the hated Hun – everything very friendly and comradely – let's hope it will last so? At any rate for this week all is happiness and the relief is terrific. In fact we are a pretty good people, we British, taken by and large and I don't mind blowing our own trumpet – for this week.
While some members of staff were still fighting, or held as prisoners or internees in the continuing war in the Far East, in Europe things started to get back to normal and the manager of General Life celebrated renewing his contact with staff at the Belgium branch after more that five years of silence. His General Accident colleagues writing in the "Our Boys" newsletter for staff serving in the forces referred to an immediate impact on insurance business:
With the end of the war in Europe, and the reintroduction of the basic ration of petrol, the motor department was very soon inundated with work. The number of proposals during June was approximately 20,000, a tenfold increase over the corresponding month in 1944, and business continued to flow in at a rate with which the staff could not cope.
Eventually the number of proposals in hand rose to the phenomenal figure of 27,000, but, thanks to the invaluable assistance from all over the office and from those former members of staff married and retired, who came to our aid, the work is now well in hand.
Even after the announcement of 'Victory in Japan' the return of serving staff to help with the new flow of work was slow. In October 1945 the general manager at North British and Mercantile wrote to each member of staff serving in the forces thanking them for their services to their country and offering them a welcome back to the office on their release.
The board minutes of many companies in the period recall the steady return of those who had been away so long and the resignations of others, like Donald Kingaby, who had decided to leave the insurance field.
POW Peter Mowlam later recalled his return to civilian life:
They took us to Dunsfold where there was a reception centre. A change of battle dress (no more red triangles on our jackets and trousers) and some good food. There was a debriefing and checking to make sure we were all genuine. Identity papers were issued and a lot of surprised parents had phone calls from sons who had been out of touch for a long time. Railway passes were issued and things seemed almost back to normal.
I caught the London train on the tube to Liverpool Street… I caught the next train to Cambridge and arrived home that evening, armed with a double issue of ration cards. It took a long time to settle down.
A number of returning POWs, like Percy Toms of Commercial Union, never really recovered from their experiences while others had more visible scares of war like J P Joisce of Northern Assurance who lost a leg and Ian W Craig of the company's Glasgow branch who, according to the staff magazine, "narrowly escaped cremation in a Wellington bomber" and became a member of the Guinea Pig Club having "passed through the "Arts and Crafts" Department of Queen Victoria Hospital for Plastic Surgery under the skilled hands of Sir Archibald McIndoe."
The board minutes record the gradual return to normality with the re–establishment of branches and agencies in formerly occupied countries in Europe and in the Far East and donations made to rebuilding projects in London and the provinces. Several of the companies, like Norwich Union Life Society, ran refresher courses for returning service men and women. The Norwich Union course was run over two days in November 1946 and the syllabus included lectures on "Simple aids to calculation", "Our funds and investments" and "Publicity - its purpose, practice and possibilities."
At North British and Mercantile the Life Department also printed a special booklet for returning staff and in January 1946 General Accident issued a brochure to assist its returning staff which included the foreword:
It is not claimed that the work is all embracing but it is hoped that sufficient information is given to enable the individual to take up civilian life at the point where he left it to fight for democracy. May we add a word of warning! Knowledge gained in pre-war will largely have been forgotten and, whilst all possible help will be given to regain that knowledge and to add to it, much will depend upon the willingness of the individual to read wisely and study resolutely.